Muscle Power

I have zero sense of agricultural timelines. I really couldn’t tell you when the peak growing season for crops is, couldn’t tell you roughly when the best harvest time is (besides “fall”), and couldn’t tell you what grows best at what different times of the year. Besides being annoyed by less daylight and colder weather, the winter is little more than a season where we have a few extra holidays, travel during inclement weather, and drink warm beverages. For me, winter is not a threat to my livelihood while plants and many animals go dormant.
The reason why I don’t know anything about agricultural seasons and timelines is because the energy and power that I use has been separated from seasonal cycles. My home in Reno, NV is powered primarily by natural gas internal combustion engines that generate electricity. We have a couple of solar panel electricity generating fields in the area to supply some energy, and soon I’ll have solar panels on my house as well. There are also a couple of small power plants along the Truckee River which our local water company claims generate enough energy to power about 4,000 homes per year. These energy sources are relatively continuous and free from the fluctuations of the sun and seasons.
Most of human history, however, did not have the luxury of energy systems separated from the Earth’s seasons.  Regarding pre-industrial energy, Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens, writes, “since human and animal bodies were the only energy conversion device available, muscle power was the key to almost all human activities.” Muscles needed to be built by living bodies. Whether those living bodies were consuming other animal bodies for energy or consuming plants for energy, they were ultimately relying on solar power and agricultural cycles. This meant that the summer and fall, when plant energy was most available, was the time when muscle power was the most abundant.
During the winter, and when crops and plants were not growing, there was not as much muscle power available. Humans would have noticed the differences between when plants were and were not growing, when crops were most productive, when crops were the best to harvest, and when they had surpluses of food or faced food scarcity. When muscle power was the dominant form of productive energy, seasons and agricultural cycles were dramatically more important. Divorcing our energy dependence from muscle power has allowed humans to completely forget about the importance of agricultural and solar cycles.

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